The times sure have changed.
Yes, the statement is cliché, but it is one I often make about the challenge of pastors today versus several years ago. When I was a pastor, I had my challenges. But they pale in comparison to what pastors face today.
Why is pastoring so challenging today? There are several reasons. Social media did not exist when I was a pastor. It is now weaponized to hurt pastors. Culture has shifted to being mostly adversarial to Christianity in general, and to local churches and pastors in particular. And we are undoubtedly in the midst of a great polarization in our nation and many parts of the world.
The recent study by the Barna Group should come as no surprise then. Four out of ten pastors are considering quitting! That should be a sobering reality.
For pastors, though, the greatest pain comes from within the church instead of the culture outside the church. One pastor told me that he used to refer to it as “friendly fire” until he realized there was nothing friendly about it.
I recently asked pastors how church members hurt them the most. It was amazing to hear these five responses repeatedly.
1. When church members say they are not being fed. These words are used to attack the pastor’s preaching. Think about it. Many pastors work on their sermons 15 or more hours each week only to be told that their preaching is weak. A number of these pastors indicated that the members who used this attack most frequently are the ones who attend the least frequently. One pastor responded to an infrequent attendee who told him they were not getting fed with this retort: “You can’t be fed if you hardly ever come to the dining table.”
2. When church members say, “People are saying . . . “ Of course, “people” are rarely identified, so the pastor can’t go to them and speak with them directly. A number of pastors said that they get complaints about something they did or did not do, and they have no idea when or if this alleged offense took place. Some people like to hide behind a keyboard on social media; others like to claim “people” are saying.
3. When church members stop giving. Most pastors do not know what their members give, but word usually gets to them about someone who had decided to protest through withheld giving. These members obviously think it’s their money, not God’s money.
4. When church members say, “I love you, pastor but . . . “ Pastors told me that they only hear what is said after “but.” They would rather the church member simply speak negatively rather than couch the complaint or criticism in pseudo-love.
5. When church members complain about the pastor’s family. Pastors know that their spouses and children aren’t perfect. And if something needs correction, they are willing to hear about it. But most of these complaints are petty and unfounded. And because you are talking about the pastor’s family, the attack is particularly painful.
When your pastor resigns this year, you probably will not hear any of these five issues in their reasons for departure. But you can be assured that the ongoing complaints, criticisms, and attacks have taken their toll.
Posted on July 17, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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